Natalie used to envy her friends who lived in actual houses with bigyards and swing sets and garages filled with scooters and bikes. Now thatSan Francisco’s real estate market had exploded in value, this ramshackleold structure was probably one of the most desired addresses in theneighborhood. With its historic charm and detail, the Sunrose Building, as itwas called, was undoubtedly candy corn for real estate developers. Thename of the building apparently came from a detail at the roofline—awinking sun. The bookstore’s sign and logo incorporated the image. Theshop’s signature bookmark, printed on the old letterpress and given out withevery purchase, bore the image with the slogan An Eye for Good Books.In the kitchen, Natalie tidied up, putting away as much as she could ofthe food people had dropped off, and packing up the rest to give to a foodbank. She understood why people brought food to the grieving, but she andGrandy couldn’t possibly use it all.The finality of her
Amid the babble of music and conversation that followed the memorial,Natalie was swept up in a wave along with everyone else. At the cateredreception, she was buoyed by the energy of the mourners. She rode thatwave, even though she knew that its power came from the deepest sadness.She let it catch her, pulling her along like a leaf dropped into a swift rivercurrent.At the end of the day, the energy dwindled. People promised to stay intouch—a promise she doubted. They urged her to reach out if she neededanything—anything at all. Everyone went back to their own lives, theirwork and their worries, their families and friends. When they walked intotheir homes or offices or boarded a plane or train, they returned to the sameworld they had left.For Natalie, this was not the case. For her, nothing would ever be thesame. She now knew that the aftermath of acute and sudden grief wasdifferent, a horrible realm she’d never explored, like an unread book on theshelf. When she stepped
Natalie didn’t sing along with the rest of the gathering as she awaited herturn at the podium. Instead, she time-traveled, trying to visit her mother in adifferent era, trying to bring her back to life.When Natalie was little, her mother had dwelled at the bright center ofher world, an incandescent force organizing their lives around books andideas.Even at a very young age, Natalie had understood that this was unusual.That their family was unusual.She remembered a time when she was in the fourth grade—Mrs. Blessing, California History—and came home in a quandary: “We’redoing family trees in school,” she told her mother, “and I feel weird aboutmine.”“Why do you feel weird about it?” Blythe quite frequently responded toNatalie with a question about her feelings. She read tons of parenting booksand got all kinds of ideas from them.“Kayla says we have an alternative lifestyle. She told everyone at recessthat means we’re freaks.”“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Mom re
Andrew Harper’s wife left him on a Monday. He would always rememberit was a Monday, because that was the day May Lin delivered the finishedlaundry, crisply folded and wrapped in a paper parcel. Then she would pickup the week’s bag, marked Harper and tagged with Chinese characters.The bag of soiled items was considerably smaller without Lavinia’sclothing. She had packed everything in a battered steamer trunk she’d madehim drag up from the basement. The trunk was a mysterious familyheirloom that had once belonged to Colleen O’Rourke, the grandmotherhe’d never known. Colleen had migrated from Ireland in the 1880s, arrivingat the age of fifteen. She had found work as a maid in the very building thatwas now the bookstore, somehow making her way in the world alone.Now her trunk would be traveling with the gloriously beautiful Lavinia,not on a steamer but on a train to Los Angeles, where her rich lover hadpromised to give her the life she always claimed she deserved.Her farewel
Andrew Harper felt the soft caress of the music on his face as he waited.Waited for what?His mind darted away in search of the answer. It was a slippery process,like trying to catch polliwogs in the pond shallows in springtime. Heglanced over at the young woman sitting beside him. She had pale skin anddark curly hair, and a face so beautiful and so sad it cracked his heart intwo.Now that he was old and plagued by strange fugues of forgetfulness,Andrew was learning to pay attention to certain details he used to filter out—sounds and smells, colors and fleeting images. Focusing on one thing—the timbre of a voice, the narrative on a page in a book—was increasinglydifficult and disturbing. Walking out onto the street was like entering anamphitheater into an overwhelming and deafening cacophony of confusion.He shored up his thoughts. He had to teach himself to think in a differentway.Although he knew Dr. Yang would disapprove, he had skipped taking histablets this morning.
The town car drew up at the mansion, a sumptuous crown atop a hilloverlooking majestic views of the Bay Area—the bay itself, the GoldenGate Bridge, and the hills of Marin County.“This building has a romantic story,” Grandy said, seeming to snap out ofhis silence. “After the great earthquake, Maud Flood was so afraid of firethat her husband built her a grand house of marble atop this granite hill. Hewanted to give her a new place made entirely of stone, so she would feelsafe.”“Now that,” Natalie said, “is a good husband.” Rick would have made agood husband, she thought, immersing herself again in guilt. He had beencaring, and cautious, and he knew how to look after things. He was steadyand stable, her two favorite qualities not only in people but in life itself.A pair of white-gloved attendants held the door for her and Grandy.Someone in the foyer took their coats and Grandy’s hat to the cloakroom. Abeautifully rendered poster on an easel welcomed guests to the celebratio
She opened the door and cleared a path through the piled tokens that hadbeen spontaneously left there—bouquets of flowers, dog-eared novels andmemorabilia, candles and handmade sketches and cards. The Lost andFound Bookshop had been a fixture on Perdita Street for as long as Nataliehad been alive, and the sudden demise of its owner had inspired a huge,loving, and immensely sad reaction.One thing Natalie had never wondered about until now: After theexplosion of tributes, then what? Who picked up the wilted flowers, therain-soaked poems, the blurred photos, the jarred candles?The waiting black car smelled of canned deodorizer. The driver helpedher grandfather into the back seat. Traffic was heavy even on a Saturdaymorning, and the drive to the Flood Mansion crawled along through wispysnakes of fog, past trees twisted and shaped by the wind, and along theslanting rooflines of the city’s Victorian Painted Ladies. Ringing cable carslurched past bustling cafés and shops. As th
“Grandy.” Natalie spoke her grandfather’s name softly, with as muchgentleness as she could muster. “It’s time to go.”As she stepped through the door, Andrew Harper rose from his favoritewingback chair in his tiny apartment at the back of the bookstore. He couldno longer navigate the stairs in the old building and had moved to the newspace from the upstairs apartment where he’d lived nearly all his life. Thesmall ground-floor studio had been reclaimed from a storage room. Thehurried arrangement wasn’t ideal, but it spared her grandfather from havingto leave his lifelong home. Though the space was cramped, there was apicture window with a view of the tiny rear garden, now bright with the lastof the season’s hollyhocks and roses.Curving a hand over the top of his cane, he turned to her. A sweet smilelifted the corners of his mouth. “Ah, there you are, Blythe. I’ve beenwaiting for you. How nice you look. Is that a new frock?”Natalie’s heart swelled as she crossed the room to